It's good to be Ricky Ubeda. Raised by a single Cuban mother in Miami, he started watching Cat Deeley's "So You Think You Can Dance" when he was 8 and, well, he agreed with the title. He started taking dance lessons and last year, at age 18, competed on the show -- and won. (His expressive, rubber-band limbs and gravity-defying leaps are on full display on YouTube.) His payoff included $250,000, a cross-country dance tour and a chance to perform in a Broadway show.
Since February, that's where he's been -- onstage at the Lyric Theatre dancing in the revival of "On the Town," which opened to favorable reviews in October. The show, a tale of three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in Manhattan, has an impressive pedigree, with a score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and a film version starring Gene Kelly.
Ubeda dances in the ensemble, after a crash course in everything from singing to quick backstage costume changes . . . to living on his own for the first time in a new city. He spoke recently with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio before running off to a matinee performance.
So what's it like dancing in your first Broadway show?
Amazing. But it was really tough at first -- I wasn't sure I could do it. I had to learn the show in three days.
Yes. That was tough because I haven't been trained in theater stuff. I'm trained as a dancer. Now I'm taking singing lessons.
Well, if you need pointers, all you have to do is watch the star of your show. Tony Yazbeck blew me away. He acts, dances and, frankly, sings much better than Gene Kelly ever did.
He works his butt off every single night. I admire him. To be able to do that every night takes so much. This has opened my life to a whole new world I never knew existed. I never thought I'd go in this direction, but now -- this might change my career forever.
What was your initial plan?
I was thinking more the commercial contemporary route -- music videos, maybe a contemporary dance company. Doing eight shows a week on paper sounds really, like, tragic. [He chuckles.] But it turns out to be so much fun.
And how's your apartment?
First time living alone. My cast has been great making me feel welcome. One of my cast mates took me to Bed Bath & Beyond my first week. They all remember what it's like to move here and live alone for the first time -- how scary that is. So they've helped me out. My family was here . . . this weekend, and they were, like -- this is your apartment? Get out! And I was like, yeah, this is so crazy.
There've been a lot of changes for you.
Yeah, I just graduated from high school last May.
What's the toughest part so far?
It's been about a year since I . . . well, flew the coop. And my life has moved so quickly since then -- the TV show, then the tour, now here. Moving, moving, moving. Now my life is steady, I have a job, I'm living in an apartment . . . that's mine. It was crazy when it hit me. I guess in some way I figured after the TV show I'd fall back into my old life, with my friends and my mom.
Do you miss Miami?
I miss my family . . . Cuban food . . . my grandma's cooking. Oh -- and driving. This is just . . . new, I'm adjusting, and I think I'm doing a good job at it, but it's gonna take time to really feel that this is home.
Have you found a good Cuban restaurant?
Guantanamera. It's pretty great. And it delivers right to my apartment.
What have you done with the $250,000?
I haven't touched it. And I'm gonna invest it when I have a chance to talk to a financial adviser.
Nothing indulgent, eh?
Not really. Which is kind of boring, I know, I feel like I should be more of a kid. But I've been given a lot. I don't need to splurge more.
Have you heard from Cat Deeley lately?
Mmm, no. I posted a picture online from the tour a couple months ago and she tweeted back. She's awesome -- she was like mom on the show, always supportive, making everyone feel comfortable. I love her.
Think it'll be weird to see the show start up again soon?
Hopefully I'll be asked to [be an] all-star, so I'll be back there one week in the summer, maybe. That'd be fun. I'll probably have anxiety watching it on TV. It was fun . . . but stressful.
You'll know what they're all going through.
Exactly. I'll be yelling into my speakers, "Everything's gonna be fiiiiine!"